LEAFLETS containing phrases like “gypsy parasites” cannot be considered racial defamation, the Supreme Court ruled in a hearing against Marian Kotleba, a well-known former leader of a far-right organisation.
In March 2013 the Supreme Court delivered a verdict dismissing the ministerial appeal against the lower-instance court ruling, which claimed that Kotleba did not intend to refer to all ethnic Roma, but “only those particular [individuals] who leech on the benefits that society provides them”, and by using the words “not only”, his use of the word “parasites” also referred to ethnically non-Roma individuals.
The Supreme Court also found no issue with Kotleba’s use of the politically insensitive word “gypsy”, stating that the word is used colloquially, even by Roma. Kotleba defended his use of the word by saying that “the original name for this ethnicity is still in use also among the Roma themselves”, as quoted by the Sme daily.
The case emerged in 2009 when Kotleba ran as an independent candidate for the post of the president of the Banská Bystrica Self-Governing Region, and in his campaign distributed leaflets bearing the slogan “with your support I can surely do away with the unjust advantages for not only gypsy parasites”. The courts have confirmed that Kotleba’s slogan did not constitute racial defamation.
Human rights watchdogs express their dismay
Non-governmental human rights watchdogs, including the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Slovakia, People Against Racism, the Centre for Research of Ethnicity and Culture, the Roma Institute and the Open Society Foundation, have criticised the ruling dismissing the appeal filed in 2010 by then-justice minister Lucia Žitňanská, who maintained that Kotleba did, in fact, commit racial defamation. It is not in line with the rulings of the European Court for Human Rights, with the European Commission’s anti-racism recommendations and the aims of the Council of Europe campaign for limiting hate crime, the organisations claim.
“The courts have fatally failed in this case in protecting the basic human right – the respect of the human dignity of all people,” the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Slovakia wrote in their statement from May 13, 2013. “Apologising for hateful expressions defaming the Roma in fact legitimises the belief that Roma are inferior and their dignity is of less value than the dignity of other inhabitants of the state.”
The committee called the grammatical analysis of the word “gypsy” provided in the court’s opinion bizarre.
“[The court] did not analyse the whole incriminating statement, the mutual connection between its parts (‘gypsy parasites’) and its objective consequences in the form of defamation of an ethnic group,” the statement reads, adding that the court’s analysis overlooked the public activities of Kotleba and that the organisations he had established and that he is a member of are widely known and offer sufficient evidence of “his real intentions”.
The ruling also sets a precedent with potentially serious consequences for the future development of interracial and intercultural relations in Slovakia, the statement reads.
Who is Kotleba?
Marian Kotleba is a well-known figure on the margins of the Slovak political scene. He founded and led the Slovenská Pospolitosť (Slovak Togetherness) far-right political party, which was later banned by the Interior Ministry and existed only as a civic organisation. He frequently organised and participated in anti-Roma demonstrations or marches commemorating the Nazi satellite wartime Slovak state and its president Jozef Tiso. He has been detained and charged repeatedly for crimes including racial defamation.
Kotleba has made several attempts to enter mainstream politics. In addition to his candidacy for the Banská Bystrica regional president in the 2009 regional elections, in which he ended in fourth place with 13,000 votes, he has more recently founded another party, the People’s Party – Our Slovakia, which ran unsuccessfully in the 2012 parliamentary elections.